I'd never been comfortable with waiting and passivity inherent in the woman-waits-for-man-to-propose process of engagement, and I felt like it should just be a decision between two people. I wasn't terribly tied to the symbolic act of proposing and I hated the idea of an expensive engagement ring (or of diamonds, mined gems, or mined gold). I felt like, if we'd already agreed that we were right for each other and wanted to get married, that meant we were engaged.
Someone, ahem, didn't quite agree. The symbolism of honoring the relationship with a special proposal was important to Jason. The symbolism of investing in a ring and relationship was important to Jason. And, while he could see my point about the man-asks-woman proposal excluding the woman's agency, it was really important to him to do the asking only once he was truly ready.
I had to respect his needs, especially because that there's a vast difference between knowing you're with the right person and being ready to say yes to marriage. I won't speak for Jason, but with other male friends, I've seen it bound up with feeling like they're at a stable enough point in their professional and personal lives to feel ready to build a life and not just enjoy a relationship with the right person. I understood where Jason was coming from. He's a few years younger than I am, and I couldn't have imagined feeling ready for marriage when I was his age. Of course, I hadn't been in a great long-term relationship at that point but, even so, it would have been hard to picture. Accordingly, I understood his needs and shifted my thinking about the proposal. I knew it was the fair and right thing to wait for him, especially since we were both already secure in Us.
Our specific relationship context challenged both of our notions of engagement. And so, we had to work out new rules that were right for both of us: I had to give him space to figure our when he was ready, he had to respect my general timeframe (which we talked about). I had to respect his desire to buy me a ring, he had to respect my environmental and cost parameters about the ring, and he had to respect my need for this to feel equal by allowing me to propose back to him with an engagement-ring equivalent present of similar value (I secretly decided on tickets and a flight to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, which he'd always wanted to attend).
As we stumbled through the process of defining an egalitarian proposal that felt right for both of us, the one thing that became clear was that the process of defining our egalitarian wedding and life will be equally defined by trial-and-error confusion. Working through what our ideals mean in our real-world context is a process of stumbling closer towards our personal truths. Despite my best attempts to search out role models and feminist success stories related to domestic harmony, I haven't quite been able to find anything that fits our specific needs and situations. Happy feminist marriages abound, of course (I was lucky to be raised by a pretty amazing pair of parents myself) but there's no real roadmap here. There's no standard "feminist/egalitarian proposal" or "feminist/egalitarian wedding" or "feminist/egalitarian marriage" models to help shape our approach.
Instead, our approach has been long, difficult conversations that seek to find the real intent and emotion behind each of our life-desires and symbols in order for us to define (and constantly re-define) the parameters that work for us. While I'm not fan of the definition that feminism = the right to choose your life*, the modern women's movement has certainly blown the lid off gender roles that were easier to define and off life pathways and transitions that had a well-understood trajectory. We've been left with an overabundance of choice with only our own convictions to guide us. Either of us could stay at home with our future children. Neither of us might stay at home with our future children. We could forgo children altogether. We could split household chores entirely evenly or find new modes that make it work based on work hours, preferred chores, etc. It's all open. Our life is whatever we want it to be, and we haven't quite figured out our notions of equality based on income, time, personal desires, and emotional symbols.
I'm not remotely advocating for a return to prescribed gender expectations (and their limitations) but I'm learning that forging your own path, every darn step of the way, can get exhausting. And then explaining our choices is exhausting all over again, without even accounting for the occasional need to defend them. It's worth it, every step of the way, but it makes these choices surrounding our proposal, our wedding planning, and our life both more difficult and more rewarding.
Our egalitarian process of engagement was long, convoluted, and right for us. Along the way, many of our friends and family have misinterpreted our dismissed our actions or intention, perhaps because it doesn't fit neatly into the standard man-ask-woman framework or the misconceptions of whatever a feminist proposal might look like (unshaven legs, vegetarian dinner, and me browbeating him into agreeing to my every whim, perhaps?) Everyone else's interpretations aside, we've worked out our definition: I proposed one year ago, but we weren't engaged until we'd both engaged in the process and by proposing to each other. I suffered through a few anxious months during which Jason was ordering my ethical stones and having the ring made and before he could put his incredible proposal night plan into place. But by trusting each other, we found ways to trust our own truths. For us, that's all we have. And for us, it's enough.
via Ferran's flickr (creative commons)
*that's a conversation for a different post. Or twenty.